Fewer man­a­tees ex­pected in South Florida this year

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - - LOCAL - By David Flesh­ler Staff writer SEA­SON, 7B

Mana­tee sea­son starts to­day on South Florida wa­ter­ways, as slow-speed zones take ef­fect to pro­tect the tubby ma­rine mam­mals from be­ing torn up by boat pro­pel­lers.

But this may be an­other year in which fewer man­a­tees elect to make the trip south. With an­other warm win­ter ex­pected, man­a­tees can re­main in Cen­tral Florida, where the sea­grass they de­pend on for food is more abun­dant, rather than stream­ing south to es­cape the cold.

As a re­sult, we are un­likely to see as many man­a­tees clus­ter­ing around the warm-wa­ter dis­charge zones of power plants in Riviera Beach, Port Ever­glades and Fort Laud­erdale west of the air­port.

“Our num­bers may re­main low com­pared to nor­mal years, as did hap­pen last win­ter,” said Pat Quinn, Broward County’s mana­tee co­or­di­na­tor. “We usu­ally have peaks of 600 to 800 man­a­tees ob­served dur­ing a sur­vey flight, but the 2016-17 win­ter had a peak of just over 300 ob­served, less than half of av­er­age. Still a lot of crit­ters in the wa­ter.”

This will be the first sea­son in 50 years that man­a­tees ar­rive in South Florida with­out the en­dan­gered species la­bel. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice ear­lier this year fi­nal­ized a re­clas­si­fi­ca­tion of their sta­tus to threat­ened, re­flect­ing what it said was their im­proved prospects.

But even as a threat­ened species, man­a­tees re­tain all the pro­tec­tions they had as an en­dan­gered species, with the change in sta­tus re­flect­ing only an up­grade in the out­look for

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